Published October 16, 2001
MADISON, Wis. – In another example of the country's bustling wartime patriotism, the Madison School Board reversed on Tuesday the decision it made last week to ban the Pledge of Allegiance.
Starting Wednesday, students in Madison schools will begin every morning with their hands over their hearts, facing the American flag and pledging their commitment to what it represents.
The 6-1 vote was made to comply with a state law that requires a daily display of patriotism -- and to pacify furious Madison residents.
"For a few minutes every morning, everyone joins in an exercise that I believe binds us together," board member Ray Allen said Tuesday. "I don't think the pledge is about religion. I think it is a commitment to our democracy."
The Madison situation captures the current climate of heightened national sensitivity and fierce American pride born in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The 800-seat auditorium at Madison Memorial High School overflowed into Tuesday morning with citizens debating the board's decision to only allow an instrumental version of the national anthem.
The board last week tossed out the pledge -- which has become controversial in public schools in recent years -- as a way to abide by a new student patriotism law.
That law, included in the state budget passed this summer, requires public schools to give students a daily opportunity to say the pledge or hear the national anthem.
In communities throughout the country, the practice of reciting the pledge in public schools has become a source of contention because of its reference to God. Some argue it violates the Constitutional separation of church and state. Various groups believe the country hasn't lived up to the "liberty and justice for all" declaration that ends the pledge.
The school district initially allowed schools to decide how they wanted to comply, but the board passed a motion last week directing schools to only use an instrumental version of the anthem, ruling out the pledge and the words of the anthem.
Before the meeting started, the crowd spontaneously began reciting the pledge, with the majority standing as some scattered boos were heard. After finishing the oath, supporters broke into applause, waving American flags.
Outside, several parents led by former Rep. Scott Klug, R-Wis., said they intend to seek the recall of some or all of the board members.
"If they didn't know what they were doing last week," Klug told reporters, "then what other decisions are they making where they don't have a clue?"
Public testimony started about 5:30 p.m. Monday and ended about 1:30 a.m. Tuesday. Officials said 233 people signed up to speak before the board, but 165 actually did. Each had three minutes.
The board also allowed about two dozen students to testify first so that they could get home and do their homework.
"Do I feel a pressure to participate (in reciting the pledge)?" asked Liana Prescott, a senior at Memorial High School. "Absolutely. Are there others who bow to this pressure? I cannot doubt it."
Laura Brown said it was unfair to divide students with different beliefs on the issue of the pledge.
"It's bad enough Usama bin Laden has declared a holy war on us," she said. "It's a heck of a lot worse if we declare war on each other in the name of God."
Dan Neviaser, who said he volunteered to serve in World War II, contended the board allowed a vocal minority to overrule the rights of the majority of people who want the pledge said in schools.
"In this time of stress and fear, we need our 'Star-Spangled Banner,' we need our Pledge of Allegiance," he said. "You know what we don't need? Our school board."
The district has received more than 20,000 phone calls and e-mails over the last week, many from out of state. Almost all of them denounced the decision to keep the pledge out of schools.
Fox News' Catherine Donaldson-Evans and The Associated Press contributed to this report.